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Will the Results Help Me in Caring for My Patients?

In reading the results of a study, you will want to ask yourself certain questions to determine whether the evidence is sufficient to affect your practice of medicine (even if only in one case). The questions you ask regarding the validity of the study and results are different for each kind of question and are discussed later. But the end question of any kind of study - be it one regarding therapy, harm, diagnosis, prognosis, or screening - is whether the study produces results that you can apply in practice. To work out whether the results of a study are of practical use to you or not, ask yourself the following questions:

Are the people in the study like my patient(s)?

You want a study in which the patients are as like your patients as possible, in terms of variables such as:
 
  •  Age
  • General state of health
  • Type and severity of disease process
  • Time in the course of the disease
You will rarely find a study with patients exactly like yours, but if they are too different you may want to spend some time looking for another study.

Did the study cover all aspects of the problem?

Most medical problems have a lot of different aspects that you take into account when deciding on a treatment or course of action for a patient. Look for studies that deal with all the aspects that are important to you. For instance, a study may show that a treatment is effective for a certain condition, but not deal with the treatment's side effects. Or it may show that one treatment gives patients better pain relief than another, but not show which of the treatments is better at treating the underlying condition.

 In cases like these, you will want to look for other studies that answer the questions not addressed by the first study. If you don't find any, at least be aware that you need to fill in some of the gaps using your own judgment.

Does it suggest a clear and useful plan of action?

The most useful studies are those that suggest a useful plan to improve your patient's state of health. Studies that help clarify a patient's prognosis may also be helpful to the patient in making life decisions. Studies that don't do either of these are of little or no interest to you. A lot of very valuable preliminary research falls into this category. It's not that the research is not good, it's just that it hasn't yet reached the point of being able to provide clear-cut clinical recommendations.

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